The north-south divide, we are being told with increasing shrillness, is growing, with the income gap wider than ever, unemployment disproportionately high beyond Watford and rent and house prices being ratcheted up by landlords and developers to rival London’s.
No-one has suggested that there has ever been a cultural inferiority about the north, however, and yet to be a creative there takes determination and personal resources several notches up the scale from what is required in the south. The art, music and drama schools may not be better in the south than the north but there are substantially more of them, and the funding to get on to that first rung once young creatives have been able to get tertiary training is more available the closer you get to London.
So the notion of the Northern Powerhouse – shame about the name, the product of lazy political thinking, because this is not about power it’s about opportunity, to make and to enjoy – is sensible and it is a relief that Mrs May’s instinct for vengeance hasn’t extended to expunging this Osborne initiative.
The government has already invested £3.4 billion of the Local Growth Fund in the north, and the announcement of another £15m as a Northern Cultural Regeneration Fund has got to be good. It is a shame that the perfect instruments for using this money, the regional enterprise agencies, were abolished as soon as Brown and Darling had ceased to darken the Treasury door.
No, the bids will be “co-ordinated” by the Local Enterprise Partnerships supposed to replace the enterprise agencies standing over the, to date, 48 local enterprise zones around England, whereby local businesses and local authorities make a kind of local alliance in support of business enterprise. Unfortunately the jury is out on them still.
The problem is going to be that the emphasis in all this is on business, not on culture or creativity. The new fund is supposed to pick up where next year’s Great Exhibition of the North – taking its cue from the 1851 Great Exhibition which was created to sell British manufacture, not creativity, to the rest of the world - in Newcastle/Gateshead leaves off.
Yet British creativity was behind the nation’s 19th century superpower status, and it is bewildering how many great artists, writers and actors this small island produced in the first half of the 1800s (though not so many musicians and dancers, I wonder why…). There was industrial nous in recognising creative talent in, say, the Potteries then. Will the LEPs have it now?
It is ironic that this new initiative comes as one of the great champions of northern creativity, Barry Rutter, throws in the towel because of underfunding.
But welcome as this relatively humble new fund is, it will disappear unnoticed unless there is a transparent and very public plan to ensure creative regeneration really is the end product.